Tooting your own horn on your resume during your transition from academia to your first postacademic job can be tough. All of your accomplishments to date have been relevant to academia and they are expertly displayed on your multi-page academic CV. But the resume makes you wonder, How are my experiences relevant to an employer or recruiter? How can I pack all my experiences and accomplishments into a 1-page resume? What should I cut when transitioning my CV to a resume? Will employers take chance on me even thought most of my experience has been in the academy? There’s no one size fits all answer to these questions. Overall your goal is to communicate where you’ve been, what you accomplished while there, and how you want to contribute those skills (and your awesomeness) in the next position.
Sounds easy enough, right?
Here are a few tips on making sure your resume tells a coherent narrative of your professional history and demonstrates your capacity to do the work:
- Swap language like “participated in,” “worked with,” and “responsibilities included” with more accurate and illustrative examples of what you actually did. Before trying to put it into condensed resume speak, ask yourself, What were the steps I took to do this thing listed in this bullet point? Phrases like “participated in” don’t describe how you participated or what you did. The hiring manager reading your resume cannot gather a sense of scale or weight of your contribution from nondescript verbs like “participated in.”
- Include paid AND unpaid experiences that demonstrate your contributions, leadership and impact. Graduate students and PhDs tend to be very literal when it comes to the Experience section of the resume, and fail to include unpaid experiences that could demonstrate their capacity and interests. Rather than title that section Work Experience, try Professional Experience or just Experience. This slight change in language lets you off the hook from describing only paid work and allows you to include hands on course-based activities, volunteer work and unpaid internships. I once coached a life science postdoc who had omitted a valuable consulting experience from her resume. According to her, that experience didn’t count because she gained it through a course. The course was Translational Research, where students were divided into small groups to assist actual biotech startup companies with a business challenge. This semester-long course gave her the opportunity to work with a real client, conduct market research for the first time, and contribute a final report of marketing and pricing strategy to the client. This experience was a gold mine! If she hadn’t enlisted expert help, she may not have included in her resume this valuable example of her skills and interests in biomedical and life sciences consulting.
- Show, don’t tell. I’m not a huge fan of listing competencies and coursework or including lots of verbose adjectives. These decontextualized lists are not connected to the experiences where you actually used these skills and competencies. Readers (aka, hiring managers) are left wondering how well you know these things, when you’ve used them, and what results came from using them. So they sound like unsubstantiated claims at a time when you most want to explain exactly how well you’ve done. Are lists and adjectives taking up valuable real estate on your resume?
- Consider adding a profile or objective statement at the top of the resume. It can be tough to create a coherent narrative when you are in the middle of changing careers and building a new professional trajectory. A well-written (and brief!) summary statement at the top of your resume can help frame the rest of the resume for the hiring manager. It guides them in how to read and interpret your experiences in a single, coherent thread.
- Enlist a mentor or career coach to help you determine the thread and communicate your story. Be sure your coach has worked with many other job seekers in your position and has regular communication with employers. These interactions help them assist you in making good choices on your resume and highlighting the best of what you’ve got to show.
The trouble with an underperforming resume is that it most likely won’t get you to the top of the “Must Interview” pile, but if by chance it does, it won’t support you to have a powerful and confident interview. Learning to tell your story on a resume is the first step in preparing to rock an interview.
What areas of your resume still have you stumped? What has worked for you as you transition your CV to a resume?